Deja vu as Fiji defeat New Zealand to claim third Singapore Sevens title
It was July 28, 2021 all over again for Fiji and New Zealand as both teams were locked in a thrilling rematch of their Tokyo Olympics final as they faced off once again at the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens on Sunday (April 10).
And just like last year, Fiji emerged triumphant with a 28-17 victory to clinch the title at the National Stadium.
Unbeaten in their two-day run in Singapore, New Zealand - who were 27-12 losers in Japan - were eager to avenge their Olympic defeat but the All Blacks Sevens were no match for the Fijians.
Despite a shock 21-12 loss to Ireland in their opening game on Saturday, Fiji bounced back quickly to notch victories over France and Japan in the pool stages before eliminating series leaders South Africa and Australia in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively.
In the final against New Zealand, the two-time Singapore champions (2006, 2018) were up 21-0 by half-time with Vuiviawa Naduvalo and Waisea Nacuqu scoring tries - both were converted - in the opening minutes.
The All-Blacks Sevens battled back in the second half but they could not stop the Fijians from claiming their third Singapore trophy and first series title since February 2020.
Australia claimed bronze after seeing off Ireland 21-19 in the third-place play-off.
Jerry Tuwai , 33, who captained Fiji's gold medal winning team at the Olympics, said: "We started really slow in the first game. But we went back to the changing room and spoke about our goal which is to win the tournament. We told ourselves to reset and regroup and then we went from there."
"We have been away for a long time and we wanted to put Fiji back on top. This was a good outing for us. Both New Zealand and us know each other very well but we were blessed today and I am happy for the win."
Back on the global sevens circuit after a two-year hiatus due to border closures and travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic, New Zealand had earlier swept through pool play unbeaten before beating Samoa and Ireland in the knockout matches.
New Zealand captain Sam Dickson preferred to focus on the positives despite the loss, pointing to the performances of debutants Leroy Carter, Moses Leo, Brady Rush, Caleb Tangitau and Kitiona Vai.
He said: "The young players all stepped up and they gained a lot of experience through the tournament. It's great for our squad and I would say the future is bright for the All Black Sevens.
"We haven't been able to play on the world stage for two years now and that's been tough. We showed a little bit of rust but we managed to grind out good, hard wins here."
Like the Kiwis, the two-day rugby extravaganza also returned to Singapore after two years, with a total of 22,000 spectators filling up the National Stadium over the weekend. Daily attendance was capped at 12,000 as part of safe management measures and spectators had to submit a self-administered negative antigen rapid test result before gaining entry.
The Singapore Sevens also marked the first time a major sporting event in Singapore had allowed food and beverage options, including alcohol, within the spectator stands since Covid-19.
The return of fans, food and fun was lapped up by rugby enthusiasts who sang and cheered during the showpiece final, with a large section of blue-wig wearing Fiji fans celebrating their team's win on Sunday after they had missed both legs of the World Series in Spain owing to positive Covid-19 cases.
Fiji are now seventh on the 19-team standings, with South Africa - who won the first four legs of the World Series - top on 98 points while Australia and Argentina are tied on second on 83 points. The teams will now head to Vancouver for the next leg on April 16 and 17.
South African captain Siviwe Soyizwapi said his side needed to "take a hard look at ourselves" after their results in Singapore.
He said: "When we hit a wobble at this tournament, we couldn't recover from it. We'll go back and reflect on our performance...It's a lesson for us. We know what our standards are and we need to refocus and see where we can do better."
The Singapore Sevens will return in 2023 and its organisers are looking forward to "welcoming the players and our fans back next year".
"The HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens is one of fans favourites on Singapore's sporting events calendar and this event has consistently attracted a good turnout of local and foreign spectators. We thank our fans for their continued support," said its spokesman.
"We're lucky that the Safe Management Measures were relaxed in time for our event. We're glad everyone was understanding, cooperative and able to enjoy a good time at the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens. The atmosphere and energy in the stands were high and the family themed Fan Zone was very well received."